Posted: Aug. 23, 2021

By Tom LaMarra

Hillwood Stable’s Cordmaker won for the 10th time in his career and moved to the top of his Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships Series division as Colonial Downs hosted four $100,000 MATCH stakes the afternoon of Aug. 23.

Michell Lovell and Griffon Farms’ Just Might, Chad Schumer’s Saracosa, and Stud Los Lorones’ Cheetara were the other winners of MATCH stakes as the series returned to Virginia for the first time since 2001 and now moves back to Maryland for the remaining division legs in September, November and December at Laurel Park.

Cordmaker, a 6-year-old Maryland-bred Curlin gelding, had finished fourth and third in the first two legs of the 3-Year-Olds and Up Long–Dirt division at Pimlico Race Course. He was entered in a $75,000 Maryland-bred stakes as “main track only” Aug. 22, but the race remained on the grass. That left the 1 1/16-mile Victory Gallop Stakes, and it worked out for his connections.

With regular rider Victor Carrasco aboard in a field shortened by scratches, Cordmaker rated in second or third a length or two behind front-running Rock on Luke in the one-turn event, made a bid for the lead turning for home and pulled away to win by 2 1/4 lengths over McElmore Avenue, who rallied from fourth and last. Rock on Luke held for third.

Cordmaker, trained by Rodney Jenkins, paid $4 as the favorite and covered the distance on a fast track in 1:40.45, which broke the previous record set in 1998 when the distance and more dirt races were run at the facility. It was his second stakes win of 2021 as he nears the $700,000 mark in earnings.

“What is there to say? He’s awesome,” assistant trainer Eveline Kjelstrup said when asked about Cordmaker’s performance in the Victory Gallop.

“We had the outside post and I just sat him and rode him like he was much the best like I thought he was,” Carrasco said. “When he changed leads he was gone. He’s a very special horse and one of my favorites. If the Pimlico race (Sunday) had come off the turf, he would have been tough to beat in that race, too.”

Cordmaker collected 10 points for his victory and now has 18, seven more than Harpers First Ride in the division. He is also eligible for bonus money now that he has made three starts in his division.

Chesapeake Stakes (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt division)

Just Might, owned by trainer Michelle Lovell and Griffon Farms, is better known as a very good turf sprinter. But this winter he won the off-the-turf Colonel Power Stakes in Louisiana by five lengths, and in his return to dirt was a narrow winner of the $100,000 Chesapeake Stakes at six furlongs with Colby Hernandez aboard.

In his MATCH Series debut, Just Might grabbed the early lead from the outside post through a quick opening quarter-mile and for the rest of the race was in a battle with division leader Mucho. He fough back inside and held off Mucho by a head, with Bank three lengths behind in third. The time for six furlongs–1:07.38–was a new track record for the distance. The previous record was set in 2012.

Just Might paid $4.20 to win as the favorite.

“There were some questions but that really was an exciting race,” said Lovell, who is contending for the Colonial Downs training title with five programs left in the season. “It wasn’t going to be an embarrassment running second to Mucho. The meet is going great–it has been a lot of fun. Winning today was great because my partner in the horse and his family were here.”

Mucho, with his second-place finish, picked up 7 MATCH points and now has 20. With three division starts the 5-year-old Blame horse is eligible for series bonus money. Hillside Equestrian Meadows’ Laki, who was seventh in the Chesapeake, picked up 5 bonus points for his fourth division start and remains second with 18 points.

Love Sign Stakes (Filly and Mare Long–Dirt division)

Graded stakes-placed Saracosa, owned by Chad Schumer, didn’t have the best of trips in her first two starts of the year but capitalized on a good journey to take the $100,000 Love Sign Stakes at 1 1/16 miles around one turn. And only two races after Cordmaker established a new track record, the 6-year-old Bernardini mare lowered it yet again to 1:39.72.

Saracosa, trained by Cipriano Contreras at Indiana Grand Racetrack & Casino, was content to trail in seventh through the first six furlongs before jockey Francisco Arrieta asked her for run. She rallied inside, split horses late and drew away to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Dream Marie was second and Paris Lights third. The winner paid $38.40 as the second-longest price in a seven-horse field.

“Her first start of the year at Churchill Downs was at a flat mile–that was the only option, but she wants to go longer,” Schumer said. “Her second start (in the Delaware Handicap) wasn’t the best; she had some trouble. Today she finally got a clean trip and she won. I know if she gets clear, she will run her race. There aren’t a lot of spots for older fillies and mares going two turns on dirt. This race was one turn but it was 1 1/16 miles, and I think that makes a difference.”

Saracosa was second in last year’s Grade II Del Cap and fourth in the Grade I La Troienne at Churchill. The Love Sign victory pushed her earnings over the $400,000 mark. She now has 10 MATCH Series points along with two others to make for a three-way tie at the top.

Seeking the Pearl Stakes (Filly and Mare Sprint–Dirt division)

In a July 26 allowance sprint at Colonial Downs, Larry Johnson’s Never Enough Time defeated Stud Los Leones’ Cheetara by a neck. In the seven-furlong Seeking the Pearl, Cheetara was able to take command early and held off a rallying Never Enough Time by a neck. Heavily favored Frank’s Rockette didn’t break well but rallied well for third.

Trained by Ignacio Correas IV and ridden by Horacio Karamanos, Cheetara had raced in high-level races in her native Chile before shipping to the United States. Her first U.S. start came in the allowance race at Colonial Downs.

“Her last race was her first race in the United States,” said Karamanos, who had ridden Cheetara in the allowance event. “Today she was more relaxed. She broke well, and I tried to take her back, but she wanted to go. She gave me beautiful kick (in the stretch). She responded when had she had to.”

Cheetara, who paid $14.80 to win, covered the distance in 1:20.61, which broke the previous track record set in 1997.

Never Enough Time became the only member of her division to qualify for bonus money given the Seeking the Pearl was her third start in the series. She is now third in the division standings with 12 points behind Chub Wagon and Hello Beautiful.

Colonial Downs was a MATCH Series partner when the series was first held from 1997-2001. The series returned in 2018. Colonial Downs was part of the schedule for 2020, but the series was canceled because of COVID-19. Management and the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association reached out when Maryland interests proposed an in-state series to bridge the gap, and Colonial became part of the 2021 series.

The next stop for the MATCH Series is Sept. 18, when all four divisions will be represented at Laurel.

(Cordmaker photo by Coady Photography)